The Mark of the Jandal

Monday, January 29, 2007

Customer Service

In graduate school, I met people from more or less everywhere. I tended to spend a disproportionate amount of time with Indians -- the kind who give preference to gods that have multiple arms; not the kind that once hunted buffalo in North America -- specifically a guy in my research group named Abhi. One day, I believed he had recently returned a squash racket he was dissatisfied with, he remarked on the differences between businesses in the US versus those in India. Evidentially, customer satisfaction and customer service are a little wanting in his homeland. Most companies in the US have fairly forgiving policies concerning returns and warranties. However, most would require a person to send defective products in for servicing, or take them back to the store where they were purchased -- these last two options can be quite challenging for a Volunteer.

Last April my father asked me what I wanted for my birthday. All I really wanted were shoes. Being a little on the broke side when I started here, I didn't have a big budget. I arrived with one pair of running shoes which have not improved with the humidity. I needed new running shoes, but for every day walking I had been using flipflops. Now would be a good time to mention that I don't really walk well. In fact, I tend to trip a lot; tripping over lines painted on the street is not uncommon for me. I found that this penchant for falling increases significantly when I'm wearing flipflops or any shoe that isn't attached to my foot. I thought I'd get used to wearing them, but after a few months it didn't seem to be the case. So I also needed some sort of sandal type shoe because it's just too darn humid to walking around everywhere in shoes.

Fortunately for me, my roommate worked for a store in Dallas called 'Whole Earth Provision Company'. There he sold camping equipment to yuppies trying to help them achieve that mid-life crisis they had read so much about. In the course of working there, he became quite familiar with all the different shoes available. He was fond of a company called Chaco, and an informal survey of the volunteers here showed these to be the preferred shoe of volunteers, second only to the 4ST Jandal sold locally. Bryan helped me figure out what size I needed and I sent my dad an email asking for shoes.

The shoes came, and I was quite happy with them. I got a new pair of New Balances for running and made a note to try to avoid running in the rain. The Chacos were simple, comfortable and quickly molded around my feet. They worked quite well with the terrain here and seemed fairly durable. This remained the case until the end of November when I noticed the tread was separating from the sole.

This was a little frustrating for me. I understand that things happen, and I don't expect products to work perfectly. I also understand that most people don't want to warranty stuff from overseas, so I assumed I'd have to get them back to the US. I thought, well, I might as well see what my options are. I emailed Chaco, explaining my predicament, and asking what my warranty options were. This is a reply from Ilene in customer service:

John,

I do apologize for all of the inconveniences this has caused you. Recently, we changed our glue product to a water base glue, to safe guard our employee's from chemicals that we had to use with our last glue product. During this time, our temperature and combining procedure was a challenge, so a few pairs have slipped thru our testing process. We have since then cured the problem and our quality is like it should be.

If possible, could you send me a digital picture of the problem, then I will be more then happy to send you a new pair?

Again, I do apologize for any inconveniences this has caused you.

Sincerely, Ilene

I was really impressed with her candor and honesty about the problem. I also thought it was generous of them to just send me a new pair of shoes and not requiring the original pair in return. I sent a couple images of the problem, and Ilene told me they would mail me out a new pair at the first of the year. Fortunately for me, they chose priority mail instead of the ground, which would have taken months to get here, and the new sandals arrived last week. The customer service with this company is simply amazing, and I'm sure this is reflected in their customer loyalty.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lost and Found

We spent New Years at Falealupo in Savai'i. Aside from kids throwing rocks, the trip was more eventful. When returning from the Wharf to Apia, I looked back and noticed that Candice and I had lost Bryan. We turned around and found him shortly. Standing on the side of the road, he was with two Samoan boys on bikes and a couple on foot. I asked him if there was a problem and he pointed to the bike one of the boys was riding.

Jump back ten days

Maka, the volunteer who lives out at the far end of Savai'i, is in town. He's in a park by the sea wall in Apia and in the process of wooing another volunteer. In his distracted state, he left his bike unlocked but within eyesight. Having his attention drawn by events not completely under his control, he looked over to find his bicycle was missing. What followed was conveyed to me as none too successful attempts at contacting the Peace Corps duty officer, calling the police and explaining the situation in a second language, and a failed attempt at encircling Apia with a dragnet.

Back to the present

I think Maka had written off getting his bike back, I know I certainly had. It was a safe assumption that it had been stripped down, the frame spray painted some pimped out color, strange reflectors attached and possibly neon lights added. But this kid was sitting on his bike. It had the smiling avocado sticker, his rack, even his bungie cords. Bryan was in the process of trying to get in touch with the duty officer and/or our safety and security officer -- no answers. Bryan called Holly and turned her loose on the problem of getting in contact with someone from the Peace Corps and having them call us back.

Candice and I had arrived as Bryan was talking to Holly, and the boy insisted that the bike was not his, but rather his friends. One of the kids standing around took off to get the purported owner. After a few minutes of talking to the kid on the bike, the "owner" showed up looking agitated and a little nervous. He pulled the bike away from us and started to ride away. Bryan and I began to follow him. He rode away slowly at first, but when he noticed we were following him he sped up. He turned toward a large church, and then moved on to some trails between houses.

Bryan broke off to find some people in the village to talk to, but I stayed with him. He was getting a little stressed out and stopped the bike. He picked up a large stone and told me go back. Keeping a good distance between us, I told him I couldn't do that. Frustrated, he put the rock down and got back on his bike. I continued to follow him, keeping at least ten feet between us. He turned off of this trail onto a road heading inland.

Aside:

Each village has it's own rules. Some villages don't allow hair on men below the collar, most require women to wear lavalavas when in public. Many of villages have roads (or portions of roads) that bikes are not allowed to ride on -- however cars are just fine. These roads aren't labeled and people who live in the village are expected to just "know" which roads are forbidden.

As I follow the young man up the road, Samoans on the sides of the road are telling him to get off of his bike. He gets off and asks me to do the same. So now I'm giving chase by pushing my bike behind someone who is doing the same. I had the images of the OJ car chase passing through my mind. When we reached the end of the forbidden section of the road we got back on our bikes and started riding. Thinking I could talk him into coming back with me, I started communicating with him. I asked him where we were going. He told me his mothers house, this along with pretty much everything else would turn out to be a lie. I asked him where he got the bike and he told me he bought it from "a guy" whose name he did not know. I asked him is name and age which he claimed were Tui and 22, respectively -- both lies. I didn't expect much, but I was trying to get him to relax and realize how pointless running away was.

Eventually the road turned into a rocky dirt road and he couldn't ride anymore. After he starts pushing his bike he then volunteers that he's a boxer. After I asked how many fights he'd won and the told me all of them. Now this kid is in good shape, but he's no boxer. He was also quite worn out, so I gave him some of my water. Along the road there have been other people and houses. However, we were starting to get into an overgrown portion of the road and we came up on the last house I could see from the road. It was apparent he was willing to walk right into the jungle. Not feeling completely comfortable with that destination, I decided to turn back. He mentioned that he was hungry, so I gave him a can of tuna and met back with Bryan and Candice at the main road.

Bryan had found the Pule of the village (Leulumoegatuai) and a high ranking Matai. With their help, the police had been found. It turns out the guy was from the next village over. They had is name, which wasn't Tui, his mom's name, and the location of her house. Evidentially there is a trial linking the two villages close the place where I left the young man, so I guess we might have been going to his moms house though I doubt it. The cops caught him on the other side of the trail with the bike. Our safety and security officer showed up and we loaded Makas bike and our own on the vehicle and headed home.

Makas bike was recovered, and everyone but the boxer was having a pretty good day. The people from Leulumoegatuai were really helpful. We returned the next day with a couple cases of mackerel. I found it odd that the police would just give us the bike back without us even providing the initial police report of the theft. In my mind, there is no doubt that it was Makas bike, but from the perspective of the police I should think it would be prudent to hold on to the bike until some tangible evidence of ownership was provided.